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On August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, 80,000 people gathered at the shrine of Our Lady of La Vang in Vietnam. You might have expected the local archbishop to be pleased with the turnout. But Archbishop Joseph Nguyên Chi Linh told the congregation that he hoped to see at least 200,000 pilgrims next year.

This episode illustrates the vitality of the Church in Vietnam. Although Catholics have suffered persecution since the communists came to power in 1976, they have remained steadfast in the faith. They have faced harassment, indoctrination, imprisonment and forced labour, but still they evangelise their society courageously. Each year they welcome many Buddhists and Protestants to the shrine, which commemorates a Marian apparition in 1798. (The shrine was destroyed in 1972, during the Vietnam War, but later rebuilt.)

The Church in Vietnam may seem remote, but Western Catholics should pay attention to it. It is surprisingly large: there are more than six million Catholics, representing roughly seven per cent of the 97 million population. Vietnam has the fifth largest Catholic population in Asia, after the Philippines, India, China and Indonesia.

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